Swirl is an odd racing game that looks like one of those old screensavers that projects you through an endless, randomly generated tunnel. Though it’s weird and claustrophobic at first, Swirl’s strong graphics, pumping music and giddy gameplay will win you over before long.
Down the drain.
Most 3D racing games on the iPhone mimic traditional console racers, with behind-the-car viewpoints and steering wheels pegged to tilt controls or virtual d-pads. Not Swirl. You’re diving down a hole from a first person perspective, like you’ve been tossed headfirst into a well.
The tunnel twists and turns as you rush towards the bottom, and barriers jut out of the walls, just waiting for you to smack into them. If you do, you lose a chunk of health bar. Meanwhile, bonus stars circle around the tunnel, offering up higher scores if you scoop them up.
Steering is managed with tilt controls–and by ’tilt,’ we really mean ‘spin.’ Movement along the tunnel’s edge takes majorly aggressive tilting, to the point that you’ll be flipping the iDevice end over end in your hands. This drove us nuts, until we found that a dual pincer grip between both thumbs and forefingers makes for much easier flipping.
Nevertheless, it can be tough to watch the screen when it’s spinning around like this. And there’s no way to adjust tilt sensitivity, so the flipping is just part of the game, whether you like it or not. We eventually decided that we did, but it may turn off less dexterous players.
It’s a bold design choice, for sure. Luckily, Swirl seems to have been built by people who really know what they’re doing. The game is balanced well, with cool powerups (and powerdowns) and steadily mounting challenge. A turbo pickup blasts you right through walls with no damage, while the magic mushroom briefly disorients you.
And the further you go down a particular tunnel, the more perilous it gets. Bends start cropping up to limit your vision and walls come spaced closer together. Then they begin to move, forcing you to react much earlier.
There are five different tunnel themes–each with a beautiful new texture and awesome techno track–but unlocking new ones is tough. The game runs you through progressively tougher challenges; getting to the second level didn’t take us long, but opening up the third and fourth were a bear.
But at $2.99, Swirl is a pretty killer deal. It’s a unique sensation to spin your phone around like a pinwheel, but Swirl makes it fun. We’ll be coming back to this one for a while.